Saturday, January 03, 2004

Answer the questions now

Ever watched a movie with a five year-old? There were fewer questions in the Watergate hearings.

"Who's that? Why is he doing that?"

"What's her name?"

"Where is she going?"

It's maddening. But these are the easy questions to answer.

Recently, we watched Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean. We skipped over the more violent scenes. Ah, the joy of DVD.

"Are they bad guys?" he asked as the Black Pearl floated into view.

The world of a five year-old is nostalgically simple: there are good guys and bad guys.

When we watch a sporting event on television, he wants to know, "Who do we want to win?" We always need someone to root for; it's that simple.

Good guys and bad guys. Winners and losers. Now I have a question: When will I have to tell him that life's not that simple?

Perhaps the worst part of children playing video games (he's playing Jimmy Neutron vs. Jimmy Negatron right now) is not that their minds get exposed to senseless violence or that they could be spending the time reading instead. Maybe the most dangerous effect of video games is the reinforcement of the idea that there are good guys and there are bad guys and it's just that simple.

It's easy to explain to my son that the violence he sees is make believe and that he shouldn't act that way in the real world. How do I explain George W. Bush? Joe Horn? Michael Jackson ? (he recently saw Jacko's picture on the TV and said, "She looks mean." How could I argue?) Are they good guys or bad guys?

The police are good guys right? Professional athletes? Catholic priests? Um, well...sort of.

What's harder, telling a child the truth about Santa Claus, or explaining that some police are bad guys? "But, Dad, I thought you said only good guys were allowed to have guns?" Um, yes...but...

My son still has no idea about 9/11 or Saddam Hussein. He doesn't know about O.J. Simpson or Rodney King. He doesn't know about Monica Lewinsky or Bill Clinton.

How long can I keep him in this state of absolutes? How long do I dare?

At some point, I have to explain that strangers are not to be trusted.

I have to explain that if someone touches him and he doesn't like it, he needs to tell us.

I have to explain that Mom and Dad are not going to live forever.

I have to explain that it's not always easy to tell the good guys from the bad.

Then comes the hard question. "Well, how will I know who's good and who's bad?"

I guess that's where we really earn our money as parents. We have to give them the instincts and judgment to determine this on their own. But what do we say? We can't tell them not to trust anyone, but we have to tell them to be wary of strangers. How does a stranger become a friend if you don't trust them?

There are no easy answers to these questions.

I guess I should cherish these simple days and his simple questions. I'd better answer them, or he'll stop asking me questions and turn to someone else when he needs to know where babies come from or what marijuana is. Or why that priest is being arrested. Or why some people have so much money and others are starving.

Hopefully, I'll have a few more years to find the answers.
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